Shannon Morales, founder of diverse tech placement service Tribaja, doesn’t think of the last year in terms of a so-called “Great Resignation.” To her, the last year has been more of a Great Pivot — as in, people quitting jobs and deciding to follow their dreams of working in tech, or starting their own business, or becoming a consultant. And that, she says, has made her two-year-old company “super relevant.”
Since The Citizen last wrote about Morales 10 months ago, Tribaja has grown extensively. It now has 6,000 mostly Black and Brown workers in its network, including 1,500 members who joined in a single month after attending the company’s job fair, Diversitech Summit, in March. Its clients now include larger enterprise-level companies such as Lyft, Microsoft, Epsilon, and Capital One. Last month, Morales won the $25,000 grand prize in the CBK Ventures’ first pitch competition, a first step in the next round of venture capital fundraising for Tribaja.
And next week, Tribaja is launching a new event that promises to demonstrate how people of color can revolutionize the tech industry — and how Philadelphia can be at the center of that revolution.
Diversitech Fest is a three-day convention (May 10 to 12) dedicated to art, music, culture, innovation and technology. This collaboration between Tribaja and Philly Startup Leaders is hybrid: Attendees take workshops and watch guest speakers virtually, and each day is capped with an in-person event at one of three different Philly spots. The Fest is distinctly different from Tribaja’s Summits, which are employment-centered. “It’s different, we really talk about what’s next, from a professional standpoint, as well as learning a little bit more about finding your purpose and things that align with that,” says Morales.
“You don’t have to be a coder or programmer or a data scientist. You can be a modern creative with a forward-thinking approach to your craft,” says Morales.
Diversitech Fest begins Tuesday, May 10, with a day devoted to “cultured creatives” and conversation centered around diverse tech hubs, NFT basics — and a live virtual cooking show. The fest’s website calls its opening reception, “Philly Rooftop Vibes … a cultured food & music night” to network over darts and pool while local Black and Latinx-owned vendors serve food and drinks.
The incorporation of arts and culture into the festival is central to Morales’ idea that technology careers are more than just computers and business accounting. “We really dive deeper into being multifaceted professionals. It doesn’t just have to be about work, work, work. What else do you do with your five to nine, right?” explains Morales. “That’s what the festival is more in tune with. What do you do with those other hours? Are you creating? Are you building? Are you networking? And what ends up evolving from those things? So we want attendees to have some type of tangible takeaways that they can incorporate into their passions. You don’t have to be a coder or programmer or a data scientist. You can be a modern creative with a forward-thinking approach to your craft.”
Wednesday’s schedule is a masterclass in entrepreneurship, with industry professionals offering strategies on transitioning a side hustle into a business, a primer on tech in the burgeoning cannabis industry, and a panel featuring venture-back startup founders sharing the secrets of entrepreneurship. The evening’s big attraction is the Entrepreneurship Expo and live-streaming pitch competition for startups from around the country at the 23rd Street Armory. Companies vying for the $10,000 prize will be from all over the country. In keeping with the intent to increase diversity in tech, contestants must be majority-owned by individuals who are from a historically underrepresented group.
“I think it’s actually really exciting. We get to see who else is out there with other emerging startups and businesses. I want to see if Philly can still take it home!” says Morales.
The final day of Diversetech Fest is tech career day, focused on employment opportunities and strategies for potential employees to get the position they really want, such as honing their job-seeker profile for the tech industry, salary negotiation, a live Q&A with Morales, and a “speed interview” event, a concept borrowed from speed dating but for company matching. The festival’s closing reception is on Thursday evening at Attico Rooftop, hosted by Morales.
What Tribaja is doing for representation in tech
Compared to all private industry sectors, high tech employs fewer non-White Americans, according to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Black people represent 14 percent of the entire U.S. workforce, but only 7.4 percent of all tech industry professionals. Hispanics are 13.9 percent of the U.S. workforce, but only 8 percent are employed in tech. Higher up the business ladder, executives in the tech sector are 83.3 percent white, while Black executives make up just 2 percent and Hispanics just 3.1 percent.
Morales, who is Afro-Latina and a first-generation college graduate, knows firsthand the impact of underrepresentation in the tech sector. In her first foray into entrepreneurship, she vetted tech companies that would potentially be a good fit for minority job candidates and started Echo Me Forward, a platform that connects diverse talent to equitable workplaces in tech and startups. Through Philly Startup Leader’s accelerator program, she scaled Echo Me into a full-fledged business, rebranding as Tribaja, a multi-language portmanteau of “tribe” and trabaja, Spanish for work. To partner with Tribaja, companies must adhere to pay equity policies, ensuring that the pay gap for minorities closes and that professionals are paid based on experience and function, creating a diverse tech career pipeline through Tribaja’s talent marketplace for brands that share that intention.
The $25,000 prize money from CBK Ventures is the start of a seed round that will allow Tribaja to build a proprietary career portal that reflects their mission, both in the benefits to Black and Latinx job seekers, and in the way potential employers partner with Tribaja.
Diversitech Fest takes place from noon, Tuesday, May 10, until 9pm, Thursday, May 12. Attendees can purchase tickets to the festival here. Some events, including the in-person gatherings, require separate registration and tickets. Be sure to check out the Tribaja events website for details.
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Diversitech Summit closing ceremony, 2021